Doctor Who - Episode 10.02 - Smile - Review
This week brought the first Doctor Who episode not written by Steven Moffat since November 21, 2015. (We've had two new Star Wars movies since the last time someone other than Steven Moffat wrote an episode!) Frank Cottrell Boyce was first up with his second episode, "Smile". After the jump, read how I thought his sophomore effort went.
Boyce gets better every time he writes for the show. This story was worthy of Peter Capaldi's talent and really showed what Boyce could do as a writer.
There's so many little details in this episode that make it fun to watch. I'm sure there are many more that I missed initially; I'll be sure to catch them on further rewatches. But there were things I did catch (minor spoilers ahead). Bill called the Doctor "Mr. Fantastic." Anytime there can be a Marvel Comics reference in Doctor Who is fine by me. Although I think that is a much more fitting nickname for Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor.
The Doctor referred to himself as "over 2,000 years old." The only reason I bring this up is because of the billions of years he spent getting out of the trap in "Heaven Sent". I wasn't sure if the Doctor counted those years, and while I realize that being "over 2,000" could mean billions, I don't think he would phrase it like that if he was. So until I am told otherwise, let's go with those years not counting towards his actual age.
The Vault seems to be the overarching mystery of the show this year. There is one every year since the relaunch in 2005. It is something of a staple of the show now. The Doctor swore an oath to protect it (to whom?) and Nardole seems to have taken up the cause too. Nardole wasn't in this episode very much, but that's okay, it gave the fabulous Pearl Mackie time to shine as Bill. In fact, the Doctor calls Nardole "mum" because he keeps questioning him on why the TARDIS has moved. Nardole doesn't just seem to be doing what the Doctor asks, but rather has an investment in whatever The Vault is or is holding, himself.
Getting to the plot itself, it had the fundamental thing a Doctor Who episode needed - it taught an important lesson about the real world. This time the lesson was that if people think differently from you, it doesn't mean people are thinking badly. Of course it was wrapped in a façade of murdering robots who could only communicate through emojis on a distant planet in the future, but that is quintessential Doctor Who!
As with most episodes, there was a lot of exposition. But in a show with a different setting and story every week, it is necessary, therefore it is forgiven. Sometimes though, it feels shoehorned in and can be boring. Boyce did a wonderful job making it seem like part of the natural flow of the story. That is always appreciated.
Bill continues to impress me. Bill's questions to the Doctor are ones we all would ask. She wears her heart on her sleeve and there is something sad about her. Not something to pity - sadness defines us as much as happiness does - but something inherently sad that most people can relate to. Because of that, she is instantly endearing. Pearl Mackie plays her with a soft sweetness that is hard to capture and look authentic but she pulls it off flawlessly. Plus, it is a nice change to have a "regular" companion - our first since the "Voice of Nightinggale" Martha Jones. Donna, Amy, and Clara were "special" or "important" or "impossible". Bill is more relatable because she is just a normal woman...at least for now and I hope she stays that way. That doesn't mean she can't be great - just the opposite in fact. It'll be that much sweeter when she does do something great because she is just a regular person.
After the plot was resolved they wasted no time setting up next week's story. If I didn't see Matt Lucas's name in the credits, I'd think the whole season took place in the one minute before the kettle went off. But since I know Nardole is in most - if not all - episodes this season, they must go back and pick him up (even some time during next episode). But I like what they did here, landing in the spot of next weeks episode. They have done that a few times in the show and that soft cliffhanger is still fun.
Overall, Frank Cottrell Boyce's second episode was his best one yet. I hope Chris Chibnall decides to have him back when he takes over. I would like to see what he can do with a different Doctor and a different regime. If his future episodes are as fun as this one, we'll be in for a treat!
See you next week for murder on the Thames in "Thin Ice"!